Aretha Franklin biography

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Aretha Franklin biography

Singer. Born March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee. Often when the word "legendary" is used to describe someone of outstanding achievement, the heyday is long gone, and that person is known for resting on past laurels. Not so for the "Queen of Soul," singer Aretha Franklin. The winner of 17 Grammy Awards and numerous other honors began her prodigious career as the embodiment of 1960s soul music and continued to top the charts into the 1990s. Later in that decade, she branched out into producing films and videos and announced that she would release her autobiography--a long-awaited moment for many fans. Franklin moved to Detroit, Michigan, at age two with her famed minister father and gospel singer mother. She was the fourth of five children: the older siblings were Vaughan, Erma, and Cecil (who managed Aretha's career for many years), and the younger was Carolyn. Her mother, Barbara Franklin, died when she was ten, so Clarence La Vaughan Franklin (known as C. L.) encouraged his daughter's talents, and it is to whom that she attributes much of her vocal education. Reverend Franklin also stood by her when she later decided to sing popular music instead of gospel. Guests at the Franklin house included celebrities like Mahalia Jackson, Clara Ward, Dinah Washington, B. B. King, Lou Rawls, and Sam Cooke. James Cleveland helped the Franklin girls form a gospel group that appeared in local churches for a few months. Aretha sang her first solo at age 12 in her father's church, New Bethel Baptist in Detroit, and by age 14 was on the road with her father's touring revival. This experience exposed her to drinking and other adult activities, however, and by age 15 she had her first child and gave birth again two years later. During this time, she recorded her first solo performance on Chess Records, a powerful set of hymns with a vocal quality that belied her age. At age 18, Franklin set out for New York City to forge a name as a blues singer just like her idol, Dinah Washington. John Hammond at Columbia Records, who had also signed legendary blueswomen Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith, was bowled over by Franklin's voice and signed her to a five-year contract. She released her first album for Columbia in the fall of 1960, The Great Aretha Franklin. Although some of the singles made it on the charts, no overwhelming success resulted from these tracks, probably due to the poor choice of material on the part of the label.

She never characterized herself as a jazz singer but dabbled in it at the company's request, and then was miscast in orchestra-laden pop songs with a nightclub feel. Hammond admitted later that Columbia had not adequately showcased her immense talents. Franklin's manager-husband, Ted White, urged her to seek another company when her Columbia contract expired, and Atlantic drew her away in 1967. Producer Jerry Wexler, responsible for her first sides for the label, took her to the Florence Alabama Music Emporium (FAME) in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where Franklin was thrust into a capable group of musicians. There her vocal and piano abilities shined through and she was able to personally take charge of the arrangements. Unfortunately, Franklin only finished one song, "I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You)," before an altercation between a musician and White caused Franklin and her husband to dash out and disappear for a few weeks. Shortly thereafter, Wexler released the song to radio stations, who begged for more. Finally Franklin returned to New York and finished "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man," and later in 1967 released her first album for Atlantic, I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You). The late 1960s saw Franklin's career skyrocket with one hit single after another, including the million-selling "Baby I Love You," 1967, "Chain of Fools," 1967, "(Sweet Baby) Since You've Been Gone," 1968, "Think," 1968, "I Say a Little Prayer," 1968. Also in 1967, she recorded two of her trademark tunes, "(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman" and "Respect."

Franklin's rousing, thumping version of Otis Redding's "Respect" was released at an eventful moment in time, with civil rights, feminism, and sexual liberation all emerging into the forefront of American culture. Her fervent performance epitomized these movements and the record served as a theme song for social change. Franklin again represented an era, sadly, when she sang "Precious Lord" at the funeral of civil rights leader Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968. King had been a close friend of Franklin's father. Franklin also sang the National Anthem at the Democratic Party's 1968 convention in Chicago, where riots ensued. In 1969, Franklin divorced Ted White and later began a romance with her road manager, Ken Cunningham. With him, she had her fourth child, Kecalf, whose name combines Cunningham's first name and Franklin's initials. Their six-year relationship ended in 1977.

While in Los Angeles for a benefit for underprivileged children, Franklin met actor Glynn Turman and the two were married on April 12, 1978 in her father's New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit. From the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, Franklin's career was nonstop. She won Grammy Awards every year from 1969 to 1975, and reinvented herself by covering pop songs by the Band, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Elton John, Paul Simon, and others. Tragically, on June 11, 1979, Franklin's father, C. L., was shot in his home by a burglar and slipped into a coma from which he never awoke. Franklin returned to Detroit in 1982 and was with him when he died on July 24, 1984. Compounding this, her marriage to Turman ended in divorce in 1984. She told Laura B. Randolph in Ebony Magazine, "I think just growing apart .. and miscommunicating" led to the demise of the relationship, and mentioned that they remain friends. Franklin's career had experienced a bit of a slowdown in the late 1970s, but the 1980 blockbuster film, the Blues Brothers, with its upbeat soundtrack, helped revive 1960s soul music and her popularity. She had an acting part in the film as well as a scene showcasing her singing "Respect." The year 1980 also saw her break from Atlantic Records to sign with Arista. Arista Records in 1985 released the album Who's Zoomin' Who?, featuring the hit single "Freeway of Love." The slick production values were criticized by some, but Franklin saw her sales go up with this hit. Honors started pouring in around this time as well. Michigan legislators acclaimed her voice as one of the state's greatest natural resources in 1986 for her remarkable accomplishment of 24 gold records over 20 years. Senator Carl Levin presented her with a plaque in 1989 for her outstanding musical career and her involvement in the effort to stop drunk drivers. Franklin throughout the years has been active in holding concerts for charity causes. She attends her father's former parish, New Bethel Baptist Church, and often sings solo. In 1996, she organized a "Christmas Extravaganza at New Bethel," where film crews from the cable network, Showtime, and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) were on hand to record the event. In 1987, Franklin became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Grammy Awards continued to roll in, including a special Grammy Award for lifetime achievement in 1994. She was featured in a star-studded documentary tribute on public television, and later, in 1998, was again featured in a one-hour profile in "Aretha Franklin: Legends" as part of the 6 Days of Soul broadcast on the cable network VH-1.

She sang at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1993 and at the wedding of Vice President Al Gore's eldest daughter, Karenna, in 1997. For her contributions to the American cultural heritage, Franklin was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1999 by the National Endowment for the Arts. Despite all of her awesome accomplishments, Franklin has harbored a fear of flying for many years. She declared to Waldron in Jet that she may be close to overcoming it, telling him that she has tried listening to anti-anxiety tapes and attending classes. She remarked, "I'm not going to jet off tomorrow, but I am expecting to soon. All things in time." She mentioned to Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds in Interview in 1994 that she travels by custom bus, which has "cooking facilities, movies, fax, phones, and a fun driver." She commented, however, to Christopher John Farley in Time in 1998 that nothing had worked to conquer the phobia, so she still enjoys the bus. "You can pull over, go to Red Lobster," in the bus, she explained. "You can't pull over at 35,000 feet."

Franklin never let her flying phobia or anything else get in the way of her continuing success, though. Toward the mid- to late-1990s, she began branching out into several directions, giving no indication of settling down and letting her past describe her. In 1995, it was announced that she signed a $1.2 million deal with Villard Books to write her autobiography with David Ritz, and she promised it would be juicy. "My tongue will be smoking when I get through," she jokingly told Clarence Waldron in Jet, adding that some things will remain private. She told Brian McCollum in the Detroit Free Press that it is "time to correct any inaccuracies." Also in the works were plans for a cooking video; she collected recipes from family and friends for the effort. Also in the 1990s, Franklin started up her own film production company, Crown Productions, and in 1997, Jet reported that she optioned Jesse Jackson's autobiography, A Time to Speak: The Autobiography of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, for a television movie for which she will serve as executive producer and coproducer. Jet also noted that she made plans for a documentary on her late father as well as a full-length feature on herself. Franklin was accepted to the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City in 1997 to study classical piano, and in 1998 she reprised her popular role as a restaurant owner from the 1980 Blues Brothers movie in the comedy Blues Brothers 2000. For the film, she recorded yet another version of her theme song, "Respect," which she insists she never tires of performing.

Even into 1999, she remained hard at work, when she began planning a gospel opera for the Michigan Opera Theatre. Franklin also dealt with legal troubles in 1999, as she owed over a million dollars to various organizations. She paid off the largest of the debts, but remained very guarded with her money, prefering to handle all of her own finances. Franklin continued to record music, signing a three-album contract with Arista in 1996 for an estimated $10 million, reported J.R. Reynolds in Billboard. In 1998, she released A Rose Is Still a Rose, her first full-length album in seven years. All-star producers Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds and Sean "Puffy" Combs were on board, as well as Lauryn Hill, who worked with the hip-hop group the Fugees. When Christopher John Farley in Time remarked that some fans may be surprised to hear Franklin doing hip-hop songs on the release, she answered, "I'm a very versatile vocalist. That's what I think a singer should be. Whatever it is, I can sing it.".

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